Robert Indiana’s estate has grown to $100M — the largest in the county’s history

Lauren Casselberry | AP
Lauren Casselberry | AP
In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, artist Robert Indiana, known for his LOVE artwork, poses in front of that painting at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art.
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The estate of renowned artist Robert Indiana — who called the island of Vinalhaven home — is now worth nearly $100 million making it the largest estate in Knox County's history, according to court records.
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ROCKLAND, Maine — The estate of renowned artist Robert Indiana — who called the island of Vinalhaven home — is now worth nearly $100 million making it the largest estate in Knox County’s history, according to court records.

Indiana, known for his iconic “LOVE” series, died at the age of 89 on May 19, 2018, at his home, the Star of Hope. Indiana, who is internationally known for his pop art style, had been living in Maine since the late 1970s.

Since his death, Indiana’s estate, managed by Rockland attorney James Brannan, has been embroiled in multiple legal battles playing out in Maine and New York. But in the same time frame, the value of his estate has grown substantially as pieces of art belonging to the late artist have been found across the globe.

“Right now we’re close to $100 million, and it’s going to be more than that because we’re still recovering pieces [of his artwork] worldwide,” Brannan said.

Indiana’s estate is currently valued at about $90 million, according to an interim accounting filing submitted by Brannan in Knox County Probate Court on Monday. About $86 million of that value is Indiana’s artwork and $4 million is real estate.

Indiana’s estate is now the most valuable ever handled in Knox County. Previously, the largest estate handled was about $23 million, according to Brannan.

At the time of Indiana’s death, Brannan estimated the estate was worth about $28 million. But as Indiana’s artwork was appraised, and more of his artwork has been located, the value has tripled. “And we’re not done locating all of his work yet,” Brannan said.

Over the past year and a half the estate has launched a large effort to locate all of the artwork that belonged to Indiana. By reviewing Indiana’s “meticulous” records, Brannan said the estate has been able to identify galleries and art collections that were supposedly in possession of Indiana’s artwork.

Jake Bleiberg | BDN
Jake Bleiberg | BDN
Robert Indiana’s historic “Star of Hope” home on Main Street in Vinalhaven is set to become a museum housing his art and archive.

In September 2018, a probate hearing was held in Knox County Court to determine whether or not some of Indiana’s associates, including his caretaker Jamie Thomas, were in possession of his work. This has been the only probate hearing held thus far in the handling of the estate.

However, Brannan said other gallery owners, when told they would be subpoenaed for a similar hearing, turned over artwork of Indiana’s they possessed.

“We sought information from those galleries about the artwork. Some of them were less than forthcoming, and it wasn’t until we actually subpoenaed some and scheduled depositions for some gallery owners that all the sudden they found some pieces of [Indiana’s] artwork,” Brannan said.

And Brannan said he believes that more than $10 million worth of Indiana’s art is still out there.

“We’re probably not even half done. Not in terms of value but in terms of the work that we are continuing to seek,” he said.

However, some of this work will likely be sold to cover the fees the estate continues to accrue through its involvement in multiple legal cases in New York and Maine.

The day before Indiana died he was named in a lawsuit filed by Morgan Art Foundation in New York federal court, which alleged that Thomas and Indiana’s art publisher Michael McKenzie were isolating the artist and creating fraudulent work.

Also in New York federal court back in May, Brannan filed notices that the contract Indiana had with Morgan Art Foundation and Indiana’s agent and adviser to Morgan, Simon Salama-Caro, for the reproduction of his “LOVE” images, as well as the contract with McKenzie and his company American Image Art for the reproduction of his “HOPE” images, should have expired when the artist died in May 2018.

In Maine, the estate is being sued by his former caretaker, who is seeking $2 million to cover the legal fees he is facing in relation to the lawsuit in New York. In response to this lawsuit, Brannan filed documents in court that accused the caretaker of neglecting his duties to Indiana by allowing the artists to live in squalor while Thomas “lined his pockets.”

Thomas denies these allegations.

Through all of these ongoing matters, legal costs have added up to about $4 million, according to the interim accounting filing.

Last year, $5 million worth of artwork owned by Indiana was auctioned off to cover legal fees and repairs that needed to be done on the Star of Hope.

Brannan said this will likely have to happen again within the first quarter of 2020.

In his will, Indiana directed for his home to be turned into a museum after his death, called the Star of Hope Foundation. Brannan said repairs are currently being made on the building, which was in rough shape at the time of Indiana’s death.

Thomas is named as the executive director of the foundation in Indiana’s will. It is unclear how the pending litigation will impact that position.

In his 40 years handling estate matters, Brannan said he has never filed an interim accounting document unless asked to by the court. But due to the value of the estate, he felt transparency was the best option.

“There is so much involved here. I want the court to be aware of not only what I’m doing in terms of recovery but also the expenses related to it,” Brannan said. “I want to be completely transparent.”

 



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